Seminars on microbes attract wider-than-expected audience

The use of microbes in feed and animal nutrition attracted more than 80 people to six seminars in Otago, Southland and Canterbury recently.

Organised by the AgBoard (Clutha Agricultural Development Board) as part of its autumn extension programme, speakers included Lincoln University's senior lecturer in animal science Dr Craig Bunt, BioBrew's Don Pearson and Andre Prassinos, and the AgBoard's science extension responsibilities officer Graeme Pringle.

AgBoard project manager Malcolm Deverson said they were expecting most of those attending to be dairy farmers, but that was not the case. Dr Jacob Kleinmans, forage products manager for Pioneer brand products spoke at Outram.

''We had wider interest from some sheep and beef farmers, goat farmers, calf rearers, and horticulturalists,'' Mr Deverson said.

''We had some really interesting science presented and some great conversations with anecdotal evidence about how microbes are doing good things on farms - from odour reduction to cleaning up algae in water troughs.

''There was lots of overseas science to support some of this, but more needs to be done, too.''

One of the key features of the workshops were the results of probiotic trials carried out on calves in South Otago in August, 2012.

The trial was one of the largest of its type done in New Zealand.

Mr Pringle said they found that generally less meal was consumed by calves treated with the probiotic, than those in the control group.

He said BioBrew probiotics were given to 310 female calves (Kiwi-cross and Friesian) on three farms. Each were given two to three days of colostrum initially, then 20ml of probiotic twice a day, in addition to regular feeding and watering.

They were then given 20ml once a day for seven weeks.

''They were also given ad lib meal and weighed weekly.

''The key thing is calves from two farms went on to pasture at three or four weeks, while the others were kept in a shed.''

He said results included those on Farm 1 gained 18gm/day compared to the control groups, while those in Farm 2 put on 57gm/day and those on Farm 3 put on 39gm/day.

There were 10 deaths, five of which were during particularly bad weather.

The treated 40kg+ calves consumed 21% less meal, while the treated 35kg-40kg calves ate 7% less meal and the under-35kg calves consumed 19% more meal.

''Some farms reported the treated calves were easier to handle. There was significant difference in liveweight gains compared to the control groups in two of the farms.''

He said they did not know why that was, so more research was required to find out why they grew faster.

- by Yvonne O'Hara